I was asked to put some thoughts together in a list form that would provide some advice to those starting out in the field of education and I’m not sure I can explain how difficult that is to do in some sort of simple, bulleted list. I’ll give it a shot, although I’m not exactly sure how I’ll be able to keep this short…
- Get involved — That sure sounds simple, doesn’t it? It’s extremely important for you to get involved in your school and community. It’s important for students to see you in a different light, and, more importantly, it’s important for you to see them in a different light. This helps in many ways – not the least of which is building a relationship with your students outside the four walls you are used to seeing them in. You might be shocked at how much a statement like “Hey, I saw you at the hockey game last night, you really know what you’re doing out there…” can come back to help. Not only does it show your students that you care, but it also goes a long way toward building community in your school. Go to a mock trial competition, chaperone a dance, attend their art openings, and go to a game now and then. Let them know they matter to you outside the classroom – get involved.
- Know that what you’re doing isn’t just important, it’s VITAL — You’re going to hear the snickers “You just teach to have weekends and summers off,” “You’re a teacher? Big deal, the system is failing,” blah, blah, blah. Don’t even bother arguing with these people, you’ll never change their minds. Just know that every single day you are helping somebody. We had a revered administrator, Mr. Paul Murphy – Murph as he is known – once tell us at our beginning-of-the-year In-Service meeting that every day we had a kid who came in to our room knowing full well that this was the best hour and a half of his life. This time is a safe zone for this student and it has nothing to do with learning about August Wilson’s take on father-son relations. And what Murph also told us is that this student would never let us know this was the case. Just know it is. And I do know this because, for many years growing up, I was that student. They’ll probably never tell you, but you mean the world to them.
- It’s easier to loosen things up than it is to tighten things up when they’ve broken down — This might seem like a no-brainer, but you need to set your expectations very clearly from the very first day. Contrary to what many people believe, our students are looking for guidance and we have to be clear in how we lay out our expectations for this to happen. If we aren’t clear about what we expect of them and how we expect them to do it, then they’ll just make up their own rules along the way, and while that can lead to some fun for a bit, it’s a difficult thing to rein in once it’s gone too far. On the other hand, it’s always easier to loosen things up as they go along. This summer I had the opportunity to see Buck Brannaman conduct a Horsemanship session with a bunch of riders of varying levels. If you haven’t seen the documentary on Mr. Brannaman, check it out (it’s currently available on Netflix). One of the things he said in the doc that really stuck with me is this: Gentle in what you do, firm in how you do it.
And here’s one for good measure — and it’s one that I’ve given a lot of thought to this summer as I’ve been driving through the country, hiking amongst Redwoods and Sequoias and staring at Yosemite Falls and waiting patiently on a geyser:
4. Listen more and talk less — This one is a goal of mine for the year, and I don’t just mean that for my work in the classroom. This applies to everything — from our relationships with students and colleagues and others to our every day lives. Figure out which veterans you can trust and seek their advice — listen to what they have to say and figure out how to make it work for you. Beyond this it’s also applicable in our classroom settings — plan your lessons so that you are talking less and the students are speaking more. Put it on them. You might be shocked at what kind of incredible things your silence will bring out of them. It sure sounds easy, but I think we all know how difficult it can be.
Best of luck with everything — work hard and you’ll see that it doesn’t really even have anything to do with luck. Know that there are going to be difficult days, and make sure you celebrate the great ones — because there will absolutely be both.